Night Climb: The Story of the Skiing Tenth, by Frank Harper.
216 pages. New York: Longman’s Green, 1946. $2.50.
Night Climb: The Story of the Skiing Tenth is listed by its publishers as a factual novel which “compresses many stirring episodes in the history of the colorful Tenth Mountain Division into the life of a single platoon.” That the book is factual or a real novel most of its readers will deny, but it does picture many colorful experiences of the Tenth Division. Some may find the book thrilling, for the descriptions of the division training in this country are not badly drawn, but anyone who knew the division overseas will be annoyed at the author’s blending of facts and imagination.
Night Climb is poorly organized and proceeds by fits and starts. The achievements of the Tenth are highly praised, as they should be, but the book’s emphasis is unsound. For instance, the action of the 86th Infantry on Riva Ridge, the central action of the book, was a gallant undertaking; but its connection with the rest of the Italian Campaign is apparently misunderstood by the writer. Nor does he seem to recognize the purpose of the Tenth or, for that matter, the use of mountain troops. The “Skiing Tenth,” as the division is lovingly referred to, wasted much of its early training doing downhill skiing—very pleasant, of course, but with little military value. But mountain troops are no more ski troops than ice-axe or piton troops. They are troops who must know the fundamentals of mountain travel, a fact some of the Tenth learned the hard way in Italy. During the war no downhill skiing was used in combat by units of any army, and yet Night Climb is largely a glorification of military ski training.
One could be unkind about many episodes in this book: the unreal talk of the German prisoner, the relief of the 5th Army units at Vidiciatico, the killing with a bow and arrow of a solitary German skier who happened to be well behind our front lines. Obversely this journalistic work is full of clever dialogue and picturesque sketches of many well known skiers in the division, whose high calibre and morale is well emphasized. Weir Stewart is also a real and appealing figure, unlike some members of his platoon. High praise of skiing and the mountains appears throughout, very pleasant to hear. In fact there is no quarrel with the purpose of the book, but the purpose of the division and its fine achievements are apparently misunderstood by a writer whose work is not based on firsthand experience.
R. H. B.